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Yesterday Valerie and I went on a day trip to Cambridge to see this famous university town whose beauty has been praised to the skies by many of our friends and acquaintances. We took the National Express coach up from London Victoria at 9:30 am, and arrived in Cambridge approximately two hours later. For me, seeing Cambridge was something I had wanted to do for a long time, as I was very interested to see what it was going to be like compared to Oxford, which I had visited many times.

Our initial reaction when we got off the bus was not of the overwhelmed kind:

“Uhm, is this the beautiful Cambridge??”

So, we went down to the river to see Cambridge from a punt…

…and here we finally got to behold the general splendour of Cambridge’s famous colleges! Here is the King’s College Chapel seen from the back:

St. John’s College:

The Bridge of Sighs, which was apparently Queen Victoria’s favourite spot in Cambridge:

On the way back, we got to try punting ourselves! It did not fare very well…

…and this fared even worse…

Safely back on the ground, we decided to visit the King’s College Chapel and pretend we were characters in Harry Potter and Pillars of the Earth:

Having only been to Oxford, I had heard many accounts of how Cambridge was “prettier”. Although seeing the old colleges from the waterfront was spectacular, I must be honest and say that I think the town of Cambridge has nothing to Oxford, which is much more beautiful overall, with a much more unified, quaint architecture. Oxford also seems to have a lot more energy, with a better urban layout.

However, how does UCL fare compared to these two universities?

It is a widely circulated assumption that all UCL students are Oxford & Cambridge rejects, and that we are hence a bitter bunch who hold a major grudge and inferiority complex towards the brilliant minds at Oxbridge. However, Valerie and I can happily say that we are to be excluded from that list, as we never applied to Oxbridge in the first place. However, naturally, the question was raised: Are we sorry that we never applied to Cambridge? Yes and no. I must admit there is something special and venerable about walking around these century old college halls. There is prestige and history in the air, and in some ways you cannot help but feeling humbled when you walk past a library filled with original works by Newton, Shakespeare and Byron. And also, you can’t help but feeling a certain envy towards the Cambridge students who get to live in Hogwarts accommodations, and eat in great historical halls:

However, should Oxbridge students be envious of UCL – the underdog of Britain’s two powerhouses? Absolutely. UCL has got one major asset: London. We might have to put up with grimy brick buildings, but when it is 7 pm our city doesn’t go dark and quiet. We go to theatres, concerts, ballets and operas; we go to nightclubs, bars, pubs and restaurants. As Samuel Johnson so brilliantly stated: “There is all in London that life can afford”. UCL is to Oxbridge what New York is to London – that erratic, rebel teenager; that godless secular university that accepted women and minorities when the religious Oxford and Cambridge wouldn’t. For a young undergraduate hungry for life, there is nothing more enriching than the metropolis and a truly global university.

If I am to ever to apply for graduate studies, I probably would not mind Oxbridge, probably choosing Oxford over Cambridge. I think by that time I would want to calm down a bit more and live somewhere more slow phased. However, there is one issue you face as a graduate student, and that is that you will most likely not be allocated a university accommodation. And to be honest, without the experience of being able to live with other students in an old, Gothic dorm and pretend you’re at Hogwarts, Oxbridge is suddenly stripped of most of its charm.